Tag Archives: japan driving

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Beppu, Yufuin and Oita

Having previously visited Oita Prefecture a couple of years ago and really enjoying myself; I decided that the time was right to re-visit Oita, taking a familiar route but stopping off at some new places along the way.

After flying in from Kita-Kyushu and having good intentions to visit the Fujien Kawachi Wisteria Gardens (which wasn’t open in late April 2017 for good reason, the Wisteria wasn’t even in bloom yet) we decided to take a slightly different route and head to the Kunisaki Peninsula instead. The roads in northern Kyushu, much like the rest of Kyushu, are excellent for driving. Clean, safe and relatively quiet during the April season.

The first port of call on our trip traveling from Kita-kyushu airport was to the Usa-Jingu shrine in Oita, Usi; this stunning little complex of beautiful shrines and buildings is a must do in the area. Prepare to drive for at least 2 hours to reach the Kunisaki Peninsula. Once at Usa-Jingu – which is the main shrine for hachimangu jingu in Japan – you will find some wonderful scenery for strolling around. You should allocate at least an hour of your day for visiting this stunning area.

From there, you may choose to visit Makiodo or other areas of the Kunisaki Peninsula – the Rokugo Manzien temples are some of Japan’s most famous – before heading on to your next destination. Our next stop was to the world famous onsen town of Beppu.

Beppu has so much to do and to enjoy. You can find several “hells”, known as Jigoku in Japanese. These are naturally occurring hot springs that are often with different colour water, smells and/or nature surrounding them. Parking is very easy to find in this area, so when driving around Beppu you should find stopping your vehicle relatively simple and cheap.

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After enjoying a wonderful meal and evening in Beppu, the following day saw us drive for a wonderful breakfast at Jigokumushi Kōbō Kannawa (Jigokumushi Kobo Steam Cooking Center), where you will be able to cook your food on the heat of the onsen. A great side trip is a short drive away, to Takasakiyama Monkey Park where you can find hundreds of cheeky monkeys (macaques) on top of their own mountain. A wonderful day out!

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A recommended itinerary from there is to drive to the pretty town of Yufuin and set up camp there. You will find it tricky to get around by car around Mount Yufu/Yufuin and so keep this in mind if you are reliant on your vehicle.

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After Yufuin, you may choose to head to Oita City, the main city in Oita prefecture. There are plenty of shops and restaurants here.

After Oita City, we decided to stop by Kitsuki town; a delightful little village on the way to Oita Airport. From there you will find many shops and a pretty little castle to explore.

Miyako

Miyakojima

Miyakojima is one of the Okinawan islands at the southernmost point of Japan. Much like Ishigaki and Okinawa island itself, hiring a car on Miyakojima is easy and a fun way to get around the island. Miyako is only 25 kilometres by 15 kilometres so a vehicle makes for a convenient way to explore everything on offer.

Miyakojima is 300km away from Okinawa’s main island and is thus only reachable by plane. JAL have a direct flight to the island from Tokyo but expect to pay a hefty price as Miyakojima is an incredibly popular spot for traveling Japanese tourists.

Miyako is famous for its beaches and Maehama Beach and Yoshino Beach are absolutely the most popular spots to visit. A quick 15 minute drive from the airport will take you to Maehama and thus should be one of the first spots that you visit on your travels around the island.

A visit to Cape Higashi-Hennazaki would certainly be an important part of any tourist’s itinerary but expect to travel approximately 30 minutes from most of the island to reach the spot, famous for its lighthouse.

A visit over Irabu, Ikema and Kurima bridges makes for an exciting trip and the Irabu bridge is one of the longest in the world. The 1.7 kilometre Kurima Ohashi connects Kurima Island with Miyako Island and is only recently built. Irabu’s bridge – at 3.54km – takes some time to explore but gives travellers the option to visit Irabu Island.

Irabu Bridge
Irabu Bridge

Miyakojima is a must visit spot for any international traveller looking for a different experience in Japan.

Chureito Pagoda

Fuji Five Lakes / Fujigoko, Yamanashi

Fuji Five Lakes, otherwise known as Fujigoko in Japanese, is one of the nicest day trips out of Tokyo by car. There are three or four different routes to the area in Yamanashi, which is located at the base of Mount Fuji. You can choose to take the scenic and slow route, through the country roads. My GPS told me that would take 3 and a half hours from Tokyo. Alternatively, the express route can get you there in over an hour if you’re lucky. The choice was easy enough.

What makes Fuji Five Lakes so special is that each one is famous for outstanding scenery, beautiful surroundings and excellent opportunity for photographs.

Prior to your trip, it is a good idea to decide exactly which lakes you want to see (if you don’t want to see all five). Arguably, the most beautiful and famous lake to view is Lake Kawaguchiko, closely followed by Lake Yamanakako. The other three, Lake Saiko, Lake Motosuko and Lake Shojiko are considerably smaller and a visit can be enjoyed with just a short drive.

The first place that we stopped off at was Lake Kawaguchiko. The huge lake has plenty of restaurants and shops around it and several excellent places from which to take a photograph.

Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko
Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko

From Kawaguchiko, it is a short trip to the nearby Lake Saiko. From most of this lake, the view of Mount Fuji is blocked except for one small area where Fuji can be seen from distance.

A 20 minute trip away will then take you to the area of the next two mountains.

Lake Shojiko
Lake Shojiko

Whilst in the area, a trip to the Chureito Pagoda is highly recommended. This is very difficult to find and you might find yourself zig-zagging across railways to eventually find the very small, thin road that leads you up to the Pagoda.

Chureito Pagoda
Chureito Pagoda

The Yamanashi area is certainly worth a trip. With all of the areas generally located around of Fuji-san, you can travel around easily and quickly by vehicle.

Akashi Kaikyo

Around Kobe to Himeji and back

One of my favourite trips in Japan so far has been a trip to Hyogo and the cities within the prefecture. Hyogo, for many, is well known for the city of Kobe (which is thus famous for beef and for the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake), and the neighbouring Osaka prefecture.

Kobe itself is a beautiful city. The Harbour (Harbourland, Mosaic, Kobe Port) area is easy to drive around and there is plenty of parking on offer. In addition, driving through the centre of Kobe couldn’t be easier. The roads are designed in a typical American standard (blocks) and thus are well organised and less busy. The most famous part of Kobe city is probably Sannomiya, this area is generally where you’ll find most restaurants, bars and general entertainment.

Kobe
Kobe

On my trip to Kobe, I decided to venture from around the Kobe-shi area and head to the famous Himeji Castle, before heading back along the coast to view the world’s longest suspension bridge, Akashi Kaikyo.

The first option you can take is the Sanyo Expressway. This road is generally quiet, expensive and there is little to see in the way of scenery. That will set you back more than 2,500 yen but is a sure fire way to avoid the traffic.

Once you arrive in Himeji, the most famous sight, of course, is the castle. This is Japan’s biggest and most famous castle and was actually closed for renovation at the time of writing. Still, it was stunning and worth the visit.

Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle

From there, it was decided to visit the stunning suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo. This connects Hyogo with Awajishima island, which in turn connects to Shikoku prefecture. As you’ll see from the pictures, this bridge absolutely blows the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge out of the water, it is that stunning. The journey along the coastline back to Kobe (and through the suspension bridge area), takes you through countryside areas and there is again not much in the way of scenery, but it is worth it once you get to the bridge. From the bridge, a swift 20-30 minute journey should put you back in Kobe.

Akashi Kaikyo bridge
Akashi Kaikyo bridge

All in all, if you have time to visit Hyogo, I would indeed recommend Himeji. I would also recommend finding time to visit another prefecture to make the most of your trip.